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Huelva industrial-chemical complex, Spain


The city of Huelva had a chemical complex established during the 1960s (during the Franco dictatorship) right next to the city. The different companies (currently 14) established there started already back then discharging their toxic waste into the Tinto river. Several years later, one of them (Fertiberia) also started discharging phosphogypsum - a waste product of the phosphoric acid production process -which contains concentrations of uranium series radionuclides. This radioactive waste is stored in 30 meter high piles (called balsas de fosfoyesos), covering 1200 hectares, just a few hundred meters from the town.

Various studies undertaken so far to scientifically assess the level of pollution in Huelva and the risks to its inhabitant’s health all highlight the extreme gravity of the situation.

In 2002, a group of architects organised a public meeting with other civil society organisations to collectively decide the urbanistic demands which should be push forward when the chemical industries close. Everyone who went there wanted to environmentally restore the damaged ecosystems and recover the public space for the people. That meeting was the seed of an environmental social movement, coordinated by Mesa de la Ría, a group made up of 33 organisations, which would play a key role in breaking the taboo of criticising the chemical complex and raising environmental awareness in the city. During these years many actions have been taken to demand the closure of the chemical complex, including massive demonstrations of more than 20,000 people. Also, several lawsuits have been pushed forward against the Fertiberia company for crimes against the environment, the public health and zoning irregularities. In 2011 the European Court of Justice recognised the radioactive waste as irregular. The case is in process and will be brought before the regional, national and European Courts.

In the last elections of 2011, Asociación Mesa de la Ría won a representative in the Town Council.

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Huelva industrial-chemical complex, Spain
State or province:Huelva
Location of conflict:Huelva
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Industrial and Utilities conflicts
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Chemical industries
Specific commodities:Copper
Manufactured Products
Industrial waste
Crude oil
Natural Gas

Project Details and Actors

Project details

workers at the chemical complex.

Project area:2700
Type of populationUrban
Affected Population:150000
Start of the conflict:1964
Company names or state enterprises:Air Liquide from France
Algry from Spain
Aragonesas Agro from Spain
Cepsa from Spain
Enagás from Spain
Naturgy (Naturgy) from Spain
Ence from Spain
Cepsa Química from Spain
Fertiberia from Spain
FMC Foret from Spain
Repsol from Spain
Huntsman Tioxide
Union Fenosa from Spain
Atlantic Copper from Spain
ENEL Group (Enel) from Italy
Relevant government actors:Huelva City Council, Regional government - Junta de Andalucía, Spanish government
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Greenpeace, Los Verdes Huelva, Ecologistas en Acción Huelva, Mesa de la Ría Platform. Formed by:, Colegio Oficial de Arquitectos de Huelva, Colegio Oficial de Biólogos de Andalucía Occidental – Del, egación Huelva, Colegio Oficial de Economistas, de Huelva, Delegación de Huelva del Colegio Oficial de Psicólogos de Andalucía Occidental, Colegio Oficial de Ingenieros Técnicos Forestales, Consejo Andaluz de Colegios Oficiales de, Arquitectos, Asociación de Vecinos La Morana, Asociación de Vecinos Virgen de Belén, Asociación de, Vecinos de Santa Gema, Asociación de Vecinos del Antiguo Barrio de San Sebastián, Asociación de Vecinos La Amapola, Asociación de Vecinos, Las Palmeras, Asociación de Vecinos Los Desniveles – Barriada de La Orden, Asociación de Vecinos Viaplana, Asociación de Vecinos Huerta Mena, Izquierda Unida- Los Verdes –, Convocatoria por Andalucía, Partido Andalucista – Huelva, Colectivo Ciudadano para la Descontaminación de Huelva, Ecologistas en Acción, Sindicato USO, Sindicato USTEA, Sindicato CSIF, Sindicato Unitario, Asociación por los Derechos Humanos, Fundación Utopía Verde, Odiel Radio, HIGIA - Sociedad para la Defensa de la Calidad Ambiental y la Salud, Asociación de Estudiantes Progresistas, Asociación Deportiva SOLUA, APROMA, Asoc. para la Defensa del Patrimonio, Ecológico de Huelva (ADEH), PCPA, Asociación Dos Orillas.

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Recreational users
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Development of a network/collective action
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Global warming, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, Waste overflow
Potential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Soil contamination, Soil erosion, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion
Other Environmental impactsRadioactivity
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Occupational disease and accidents, Other environmental related diseases
Potential: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Deaths
Other Health impactsAccording to a helth study from the University Pompeu Fabra, Huelva has the highest rate of Cancer in Spain (1).
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Potential: Loss of livelihood, Specific impacts on women, Violations of human rights


Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Corruption
Environmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Development of alternatives:To clean and recover the contaminated areas for the inhabitants of the citys health and leisure activities.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:The chemical industries are still active.

Sources & Materials

Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

Environmental Protection Law 7/1994.

EU Directive 2000/60/CE.

Law 7/2007, de Gestión Integrada de la Calidad Ambiental.

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Diagnóstico de la calidad ambiental de la Ría de Huelva (Consejo Superior de

Contaminación por material particulado atmosférico en el entorno de la Ría de

Análisis de las presiones (aportes) antropogénicas significativas. (Universidad de Huelva, 2007).

Franciso L. Rueda, Julia M. Palomares, Ignacio V. Rico. Atypical Thyroiditis in Huelva. Endocrine Practice Vol5, No3 May/June 1999.

Investigación de Expascan

Informe preparatorio de la delegación provincial de Huelva para el estudio epidemiológico sobre contaminación del polo industrial de Huelva y los riesgos para la salud. 1989.

Investigaciones Científicas, 2005).

Informe de Corpwatch sobre Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold, propietaria de Atlantic Copper.

Huelva (Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, 2007c).

valuación de la calidad de las aguas litorales y los sedimentos. (Consejería de Medio Ambiente (2000-2007) y Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas –2005-).

Daponte-Codina, A. y otros autores. Efectos a corto plazo de la contaminación atmosférica sobre la mortalidad: resultados del proyecto EMECAM en Huelva, 1993-1996. Revista Española de Salud Pública.

Natali, L. (2010). The big elephants in the backyard of Huelva (Spain) in White, R. (ed.) (2010) Global Environmental Harm. p.193-210

(1) Benach, J. & Martinez, JM. (ed)(2013) Atlas of Mortality in Spanish Municipalities and Census Tracts (1984-2004)Madrid: Fundación BBVA


Bajo los efectos de la contaminación. Introductory report:

Interview to a member of Mesa de la Ria who entered into the municipal government, proposing green alternatives for the city:

The geography of the highest mortality areas in Spain: a striking cluster in the southwestern region of the country:

Situación medioambiental, social y política de la ría de Huelva.

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Videoclip 2013:

Documentary about the huelva conflict. 2012. Cero: (first part) and (second part)

Meta information

Contributor:Amaranta Herrero
Last update18/08/2019